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New place for Grace Place?

A former nursing home in New Richmond could become the new home for Grace Place, a homeless shelter currently operating in Somerset.

The former Maple Manor and Deerfield Gables facility, which has been sitting empty since last fall, is being sought by the non-profit organization, according to Duana Bremer, administrative director with The Salvation Army.

"I'm hoping it works out," she said. "I think it will be really good and I hope we get community support."

The concept plan for the facility is on the agenda for the Tuesday, May 7, meeting of the New Richmond Plan Commission. Area residents are invited to attend to provide their input.

"We want to inform the community," Bremer said. "We don't want people to be nervous or scared, because these (homeless clients) are not scary people."

Bremer said the facility is already zoned properly, but the city may need to issue a conditional use permit to allow Grace Place to move in.

Even if the plan moves forward, Bremer predicts that the move won't officially occur for a while.

"I can't see us moving in for another year," she guessed.

A new sprinkler system will need to be installed at the facility prior to the move and funds will need to be raised to make that happen.

A bit of renovation work, like installing showers, will also be required to get the building ready for clients, she said.

Grace Place, which has been operating out of the former convent next to St. Anne's Church in Somerset for 10 years, is overcrowded and in need of more rooms to house homeless families and individuals, Bremer said. Demand for transitional housing has doubled in St. Croix County over the last six years.

During the past year, Bremer said, about 124 homeless people were turned away from the shelter due to a lack of space. When turned away, people often live in their cars or drive to the Twin Cities to find space in a homeless shelter there.

Some families with children will get by through "sofa surfing," Bremer said. Kids will stay with a series of friends to keep a roof over their heads.

"It's sad," she said. "That's a real stressor for kids."

During warm weather months, families and individuals have been sleeping on the back porch of Grace Place when rooms are not available. Others sleep in the cramped food pantry.

Crowded conditions also force Grace Place volunteer tutors to meet with kids in a dark hallway in the basement. The Grace Place playroom for younger children is a converted closet.

"Right now it's pretty dismal," she said.

The current facility has room to provide shelter for 24 individuals or eight families. If Grace Place moves to the former Maple Manor, capacity will rise to 60 people, but Bremer said the shelter will likely limit client numbers to 35 so that the existing staff can handle the workload.

Rooms at the former nursing home are much larger, and there is a shared bathroom for every two rooms there, compared to far fewer shared bathrooms at the current facility, Bremer noted.

"This would be so much better for families," she predicted.

The extra room will be used for a play room, special tutoring room and other community areas, Bremer said.

"We feel it's just perfect," she said. "It's a good building."

Bremer said the Grace Place Board of Directors also likes the location of the facility. Residents would have greater access to jobs, health care, shopping and county services if they are in New Richmond, she noted.

Grace Place is negotiating with the owner of the building, Presbyterian Homes, to purchase the former nursing home for $1, Bremer said. The plan is for Grace Place to take possession of the facility within 90 days or so.

If and when the move occurs, Bremer said Grace Place will no longer have to pay $1,000 per month for rent, which it pays at its current site. Still, operating the larger facility will be more costly than the present complex, she admitted.

Grace Place homeless shelter began 10 years ago by a group of people representing area non-profit organizations, calling themselves the Pierce-St. Croix Housing Resource Network.